Supreme Court rules against government in ‘bedroom tax’ challenge

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Supreme Court rules against government in ‘bedroom tax’ challenge

Justice in a time of austerity: a Justice Gap series

The highest court in the land has ruled in a favour of a man living with his severely disabled partner challenging the ‘bedroom tax’ and upholding an earlier tribunal finding that his housing benefit should be recalculated without the 14% cut. The ruling is expected to restore full housing benefit to at least 155 partners of disabled people who were also subjected to the bedroom tax before rules changed in 2017 – 130  cases  England and Wales and another 25 in Scotland (as reported in the Guardian here).

The challenge by the man known as RR took up the case of Jayson Carmichael and his wife Jacqueline who is  severely ill with spina bifida after the Court of Appeal ruled against them last year. It had been argued that such a deduction would breach his rights under the Human Rights Act.

RR lives with his severely disabled partner in a two-bedroomed rented social housing property. According to his lawyers Leigh Day, the Spreme Court ruling has ‘answered an important constitutional question’ as to whether secondary legislation such as the bedroom tax regulations could be disregarded ‘where not doing so would result in a breach of human rights’.

‘This ruling was of great significance because it not only allows for the case of our client and that of the 130 couples whose cases were stayed behind it to be resolved with the social security tribunals disapplying the bedroom tax to ensure none of those individuals suffer a human rights breach, but also because it paves the way for decision-makers to avoid human rights breaches in other areas,’ commented Lucy Cadd, a solicitor at Leigh Day who represented RR.

The unanimous ruling of five Supreme Court judges confirmed that bedroom tax deductions must not be made if such deductions would breach the claimant’s human rights. In RR’s case, the question was whether those making decisions on housing benefits in claims relating to the period before the regulations were amended by the Supreme Court case brought by the Carmichaels in December 2016, have to carry on applying the regulation in its original form or whether they could calculate housing benefit without making the deduction to avoid breaching RR’s human rights.

The initial case had been taken by the Carmichaels who under the bedroom tax regime had only been allowed one bedroom. They argued that they needed two bedrooms due to Mrs Carmichael’s medical condition. Mr Carmichael successfully challenged the decision to apply the bedroom tax to his housing benefit allowance in 2014, but the government later successfully appealed that decision in the Court of Appeal in February 2018.  Mrs Carmichael had been successful in the Supreme Court in a related judicial review in December 2016. In this case, the Supreme Court found that the bedroom tax was unlawful when applied to couples who require an extra bedroom due to a medical need.

Despite this finding, the government still decided to press ahead with their appeal of Mr Carmichael’s 2014 case and the Appeal judges found against the couple (here). Following that decision, the Carmichaels did not feel able to pursue their housing benefit challenge to the Supreme Court, due to their personal circumstances. RR picked up the case.

Carolin Ott, also at Leigh Day,  said they were ‘thrilled that the court took this important opportunity to confirm the powers of social security tribunals and local authorities to take steps to avoid breaches of human rights by disregarding secondary legislation where it is possible to do so, thereby ensuring that the welfare system can properly and fairly support disabled and other vulnerable people’.